Tag Archives: Argentina

British Government Releases Falklands War Papers

British Government papers dealing with the Falklands War of 1982 have been released in accordance with the rule that government papers from 30 years ago are made public at the end of each year.

They reveal that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was taken by surprise by the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. Later in 1982, she told the Falklands Islands Review Committee, commonly called the Franks Committee after its Chairman, Lord Franks, that:

I never, never expected the Argentines to invade the Falklands head-on. It was such a stupid thing to do, as events happened, such a stupid thing even to contemplate doing.

The BBC Website quotes the historian Lord Hennessy as saying that:

Mrs Thatcher’s evidence about the Falklands War was some of the most powerful material to be declassified by the National Archives in the last three decades.

The documents show that US support for the UK was equivocal. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the Pentagon provided the UK with intelligence and weapons, including the newest version of the Sidewinder AAM. However, Secretary of State Alexander Haig and  Jeane Kirkpatrick, the US Ambassador to the UN, were concerned that taking sides would damage US relations with Latin America. This biography of Kirkpatrick argues that she was pro-Argentinian, and tried to undermine Haig, who favoured the UK.

Thatcher also successfully pressured the French not to supply Exocet missiles to Peru during the conflict, as she feared that the Peruvians would sell them to Argentina, which had limited stocks of Exocets. A programme broadcast in BBC Radio 4’s Document series in March 2012 argued that the French Government fully supported the UK, but that contractors working for the French company that supplied the missiles helped the Argentinians.

Hennessy said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that Weinberger was willing to lend the RN a US aircraft carrier if a British carrier was sunk. I had heard Weinberger say this on a TV documentary, but assumed that he meant a mothballed WWII veteran Essex class vessel or an Iwo Jima  class amphibious assault ship, which would have had a British crew and carried Harrier jump jets and helicopters.

According to Hennessy, Weinberger meant the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, an active nuclear powered carrier. Presumably she would have retained her US crew and aircraft.

The right wing Daily Telegraph comments that Thatcher rejected a proposal for a ceasefire by President Ronald Reagan after the British landing. The Americans feared that the Argentinians would look to Cuba and the USSR for support, suggested that British troops should be replaced by a US-Brazilian peacekeeping force after Port Stanley was re-captured.

The left wing Guardian notes that Thatcher was more willing to accept a diplomatic solution than has hitherto been realised.

The documents are available for consultation at the UK National Archives at Kew in London. The ones dealing with War Cabinet decisons are in files CAB 148/211 and CAB 148/212, which can be downloaded for free from its website.

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Rising tensions in the South Atlantic

In recent months Argentina has stepped up its claim to the Falkland Islands and has persuaded the members of Mercosur, the regional trading bloc, to close their ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag. Hector Timerman, the Argentinian Foreign Minister, has accused Britain of increasing its military presence in the South Atlantic.

Argentina claims that the posting of Prince William to the Falklands is provocative, but Britain argues that it is a normal part of his duties as an RAF air sea rescue pilot. The Argentinians made a formal complaint to the UN after Britain sent HMS Dauntless, its most modern destroyer, to the South Atlantic. Britain points out that this is a routine deployment of one of its warships, and that it always has a guardship in the Falklands. Dauntless is a far more powerful and sophisticated ship than those that have been assigned to that duty in the past, but the declining size of the Royal Navy means that Britain has few ships available to send.

Hector Timerman, the Argentinian Foreign Minister, has now claimed that Britain has sent a Vanguard class nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic. Vanguard’s Trident nuclear missiles are capable of destroying a city such as Buenos Aires. Its presence in the South Atlantic  would contravene the Treaty of Tlatelolco for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. The movements of such boats are exceedingly secret and it is unlikely that Britain would send one to the South Atlantic. It is more likely that Britain has sent a nuclear powered but conventionally armed submarine to the South Atlantic. Such a boat would not threaten Argentina’s cities, but would be able to sink an invasion fleet.

It is unlikely that there will be an invasion. There’s been a lot of comment in the UK that Britain could not retake the Falklands as it did in 1982 since it no longer has aircraft carriers. In fact, this has probably been the case since 2006, when the Sea Harrier interceptors were taken out of service, leaving the RN with only Harrier GR9 ground attack aircraft, now also taken out of service. The Harrier GR9 could carry air to air missiles, but did not have the right type of radar to be a successful interceptor. What British commentators often ignore is that Argentina’s air force is obsolete and its navy is not capable of launching an amphibious assault against a garrison that is much larger than in 1982. There are only 4 Typhoon Eurofighters on the Falklands, but it is a far more modern aircraft than any possessed by Argentina.

A recent article in The Sunday Times (no link as it is behind a paywall) admitted that Argentina could not invade the Falklands by sea but postulated that Argentinian special forces could arrive in an airliner and seize Mount Pleasant airfield. It argued that this could succeed because most of the British garrison are not infantry, but it seems unlikely that such a venture could succeed when there are 500 British troops at Mount Pleasant.

Tensions have risen since oil has been found in the South Atlantic. Perhaps Argentina should remember that the safest way to make money from mineral prospectors is to supply prospectors rather than to prospect yourself.

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